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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Israeli relief over safe withdrawal
Israeli soldiers celebrating their homecoming
Israeli soldiers celebrating their homecoming
Israelis have reacted with a mixture of satisfaction and anxiety to their army's speedy withdrawal from Lebanon.

Newspapers on Tuesday had described the pull-out as a humiliation.

But on Wednesday, once it was clear that the withdrawal had been completed without any Israeli casualties, the predominant feeling was of relief.

At the same time, Israelis spoke of a sense of uncertainty about what would happen next, and a feeling of shame over their country's treatment of its Lebanese allies, the militiamen of the South Lebanon Army.

'Not a rout'

Israeli military commanders have insisted that the hasty withdrawal was not a rout, but Israeli papers on Tuesday were apparently taken aback by the rapid collapse of the SLA and the triumphant advance of the Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israeli troops celebrating their return from Lebanon
The boys are out, but now what?
The Maariv newspaper spoke of "the scent of humiliation", and compared the pull-out to the final American helicopter withdrawal from the embassy in the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon.

Yediot Aharonot said that Hezbollah had caught Israel "with its pants down".

It added that while the United States had finally won the war against Communism, Israel had never produced "one sensible reason" for being in Lebanon.

Uncertainty

Late on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Barak admitted that the withdrawal had sent "shivers down his spine", but said the soldiers' safe return had made the difficulties worthwhile.

Wednesday's papers echoed this sense of relief: one headline read "Coming Home", above a photo of soldiers celebrating their departure from Lebanon.

A southern Lebanese refugee crossing into Israel
A southern Lebanese refugee crossing into Israel

But political commentators, mindful of the volatile situation on the border with Lebanon, also expressed concern about the uncertain future.

Israel had hoped to hand over its vacated positions to the United Nations, which was meant to oversee the pull-out.

SLA's plight

But the withdrawal occurred so much sooner and faster than expected, that it was carried out in the absence of any peace deal or any real international guidance.

A leading columnist wrote: "The boys are coming home to the joy of their parents, and no-one can promise they will be home for long".

The plight of fleeing members of the SLA has also received extensive and sympathetic coverage, with the Israeli media reporting on their feelings of betrayal by the Israeli government.

Ordinary Israelis were quoted as criticising the government for acting shamefully towards its Lebanese allies in the final act of the occupation.

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